The Most Desperate Housewife; Wendy Johnstone's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Stopped Her Sleeping with Her Husband and Made Her Morbidly Afraid of Shiny Things. MOIRA PETTY Meets the Woman Who Turned to Reality TV for a Cure

Daily Mail (London), July 23, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Most Desperate Housewife; Wendy Johnstone's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Stopped Her Sleeping with Her Husband and Made Her Morbidly Afraid of Shiny Things. MOIRA PETTY Meets the Woman Who Turned to Reality TV for a Cure


Byline: MOIRA PETTY

Wendy Johnstone's obsessive compulsive disorder stopped her sleeping with her husband and made her morbidly afraid of shiny things. MOIRA PETTY meets the woman who turned to reality TV for a cure At her pristine home in Horsham, West Sussex, Wendy Johnstone is packing for a trip. Her clothes are placed in pillowcases, 'protected' by kitchen paper.

Wendy's husband, David, stands by in pink rubber gloves to verify that every garment is spotless. She holds up a top: 'You've checked the front, the back, the sleeves, the cuffs. Is it safe? Promise? Tell me to put it down,' she intones wearily.

This ritual has been going on for three days, but 45-year-old Wendy's urge to keep her house free of 'contamination' has dominated family life for more than 20 years. Her unceasing housework, which would have even TV's Queens of Clean, Kim and Aggie, gasping in horror, was followed by hours of forensic-style examination, on hands and knees, to ensure that every inch was dirt free. At one time she particularly feared paint but latterly that transmuted into a terror of glitter or anything sparkly.

To be that houseproud may sound comical, but Wendy's condition - she is one of Britain's two million sufferers of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) - has condemned her family to a living hell. Her twin sons only ever had one birthday party, and there were no visitors or holidays. Five years ago she stopped sleeping with her husband and, three years ago, ceased all physical contact with her family.

Last year, Wendy confined herself to one room in the house, sealed off from husband David, 45, a technical services manager for a brick and stone company; and 19-year-old sons Thomas, a printer, and Kieren, a software engineer. She keeps a pair of slippers outside her door, which she wears when she needs to scurry to the downstairs bathroom, where she spends up to one-and-a-half hours scrubbing herself.

But now Wendy is preparing for a journey that she believes is her last chance of a cure.

She has agreed to appear in a new kind of reality television show and enter a house that, far from promoting dissent and acrimony Big Brother style, may rid her of OCD.

A startling two-part Channel 4 documentary, The House Of Obsessive Compulsives, follows three sufferers who live together and receive treatment from psychiatrists from London's Maudsley Hospital. The experiment follows American studies that have shown that OCD patients benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy. Big Brother is leading OCD expert Professor Paul Salkovskis. He says, 'The most extreme forms of OCD look weird and almost mad, but it's there in all of us. If you go on holiday, it's common to keep checking that the gas is off and the door locked. That is a mild version of what people with OCD suffer.' In the house in Dulwich, south London, Wendy and other sufferers were invited to confront their fears and she is seen, quaking with anxiety, as she pours tubes of glitter into her hand. Before beginning the treatment, Professor Salkovskis said, 'How hard will we push them? Not at all. They will push themselves to the point of cure.' The packing frenzy, which took place in March, will be seen in the first episode.

Since then, Wendy's decision to parade her illness before the world has transformed her life.

Naturally tactile, she now cuddles everyone and is rebuilding her marriage. A former recluse, she has been to the hairdresser's, is doing the shopping and is looking for a part-time job.

Wendy's illness has plunged the family into financial ruin. After years of moving up the property ladder, they have had to sell their house to pay off debts accumulated as a result of OCD. Not only did they spend a large sum on their house to accommodate Wendy's phobias, but there was also the daily cost incurred by her disorder. …

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